Sometimes in our zeal to do good, we get overanxious. Doctrine and Covenants sections 10 and 11 teach important lessons on steadily doing small and simple things until we have accomplished the great things the Lord has asked us to do.
Doctrine and Covenants 10
“It’s not my fault!” How often have we heard people say that, or even said it ourselves? It’s human nature to try avoiding the pain of admitting wrong. Instead of accepting joint responsibility for a group error, we may try to shift all responsibility to someone who was a bigger cause of the problem than we were.
When Martin Harris lost the manuscript of the Book of Lehi, it might have been easy for Joseph Smith to blame Martin exclusively for the problem. After all, if Martin hadn’t violated his covenant to show the manuscript only to specific people, the manuscript never would have been lost. “Surely,” Joseph could have said, “this is all Martin’s fault!”
But blaming others does not help us repent when we’ve done wrong. “To repent,” the Gospel Principles manual explains, “we must admit to ourselves that we have sinned. If we do not admit this, we cannot repent.”
During the period of sore repentance following the loss of the manuscript, Joseph first had to admit he was part of the problem. In Doctrine and Covenants 10, the Lord helped Joseph recognize where he did wrong.
“Now, behold,” the Lord pointed out, “I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them” (verse 1).
Joseph wanted to please Martin, his financial benefactor and scribe. He pushed back repeatedly when the Lord told him it was not a good idea. Joseph now had to admit he was part of the problem.
“And you also lost your gift at the same time,” the Lord reminded Joseph, “and your mind became darkened” (verse 2).
Once Joseph recognized his responsibility, he could go forward with his repentance. And he did. That was a hard time in his life, a time when he lost his spiritual gift to translate, a time when his mind was clouded and he had difficulty feeling the Spirit. But with the Lord’s help, he succeeded in repenting and was forgiven.
Of the gift Joseph lost, the Lord said, “it is now restored unto you again; therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun” (verse 3).
Translating the Book of Mormon was a tough assignment, one so large as to seem overwhelming at times. When we face hard challenges, sometimes we overdo things, become overzealous, and fail to pace ourselves. Joseph had that tendency too, and the Lord cautioned him and us in verse 4: “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.”
Again and again in the scriptures, the Lord has pointed out that great things are achieved by steadily doing small things (1 Nephi 16:29; Alma 37:6–7; D&C 64:33, 123:16). In a 2018 general conference address titled “Small and Simple Things,” President Dallin H. Oaks reminded us: “We are taught many small and simple things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded that in total and over a significant period of time, these seemingly small things bring to pass great things.”
Joseph had to balance his life, to avoid the tendency toward overdoing things, to focus instead on small and steady progress day by day.
What about when we face big problems that seem incredibly urgent? We can almost hear Joseph asking the Lord, “But what about the lost pages?”
The Lord, of course, already had an answer for the problem. More than a thousand years earlier, He had prompted the prophet Mormon to insert the small plates into the record Joseph would translate, and they would make up the gap. (See Words of Mormon 1:3–7.) Much of the rest of section 10 explains this to Joseph.
Joseph did not give all the manuscript pages he had to Martin. As best we can tell, when Joseph started translating again, he started with pages he retained and continued to the end of the large plates. After finishing his translation of Moroni and the title page (the last leaf in the record), he hit the small plates Mormon had inserted. Joseph translated them down to where the content matched what he still had from the first part of Mosiah. (Doctrine and Covenants 10:41. For further information see How We Got the Book of Mormon, 3–20.)
Joseph’s experience is a lesson for us all. If we will balance our lives, avoid overdoing things, and instead make steady progress day by day, the Lord will make up the difference. He sees the end from the beginning and through the atonement of His Son has prepared a way to fix every problem in the long run. We just have to do our part and rely on Him in faith.
When Joseph did that, he completed the translation of the Book of Mormon in less than ninety days. It was a feat beyond human capacity, but with the gift and power of God, he accomplished it.
Doctrine and Covenants 11
Joseph Smith’s elder brother Hyrum would be a great support to him throughout his life. In May 1829, Hyrum sought a revelation about how he could help forward the work. The result was section 11 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Section 11 is a good guide to all who want to advance the Lord’s work. The revelation commends Hyrum for his desires and gives him cautions and directions to help prepare for a future calling.
First, the Lord tells him “if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you” (verse 5). In trying to figure out our missions in life, we need to ask the Lord, and He will open the way for us.
Second, the Lord counsels obedience—a requirement for all the Lord’s servants—and tells Hyrum to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (verse 6). Here the Lord is telling him how to order his priorities.
Like most people in his day, Hyrum spent much of his time doing farm work. We need to support ourselves, but the Lord cautions him and us not to let materialism become the chief goal. “Seek not for riches,” the Savior commands, “but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (verse 7).
Next, the Lord gave Hyrum some homework to prepare for a calling he would receive to preach the gospel. One of his key assignments was to learn how to listen to the Spirit, a topic missionaries today also study.
“For, behold,” the Lord instructed him, “it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee.” He tells Hyrum to “put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit” (verses 11–12). This assignment applies to everyone. If we quietly listen to the promptings that come to us and follow those that encourage us to do good to others, we will come to know the difference between the Spirit of God and all the other voices around and in us.
The Lord next promises Hyrum that as he accomplishes this assignment, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy” (verse 13). In other words, as many people can testify, being in tune with the Spirit and following its promptings brings enlightenment and joy, even amidst life’s many challenges.
The most oft-quoted portion of this revelation is probably verse 21: “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” Those who wish to declare God’s word must first know what it is and will find inspiration as they study it.
Why wasn’t Hyrum given a calling immediately? It seems that in the Lord’s timing, two things needed to happen first. One was the translation of the Book of Mormon mentioned in verse 22. Hyrum needed the book for his missionary work. The other was the organization of the Church, which would not occur until the following April but is mentioned in verse 16, as well as in section 10, verses 53–56 and 67–69.
But there could be no Church until Joseph had received authority to baptize, which will be a subject of next week’s newsletter.
For further historical information on section 10, click here. For more on section 11, click here.
Some people have wondered what was contained in the lost 116 pages. Recently, a historian has written a book in which he tries to gather all of the clues.
(Photo credit for image at top of post: Joseph (right) and Hyrum Smith, engraving done in England from Sutcliffe Maudsley portaits, public domain, copied from https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/maudsleyjosephandhyrum-lg?lang=eng#1.)